In this week’s entry to his City Xtra column, Amos Murphy explains why Kevin De Bruyne has already proved he’s the best midfielder to grace the Premier League and why the real question is whether he’s the greatest-ever player instead.
While 2023 was a coronation year for King Charles III in England, 2024 could also see another king being crowned, this time Kevin De Bruyne as the Premier League’s greatest-ever player.
After returning from injury against Sheffield United last weekend, De Bruyne added to his growing list of goal contributions for the campaign, registering a goal and an assist during Manchester City’s masterful come-from-behind victory against Newcastle United.
In some ways, the outcome was inevitable. With City having been stunned by two first-half Newcastle strikes, the stage was set when De Bruyne came off the bench with 20 minutes to play at St. James’ Park.
From the stylish equaliser 18 yards out, to the quarter-back style pass for Oscar Bobb’s winner, it was a vintage display and another entry into the illustrious list of match-winning moments De Bruyne has conjured up for City in the Premier League. Another manifestation of brilliance from the unexplainable phenomenon that is Kevin De Bruyne.
Not to mention the confidence boost his return to the side has already brought about. Kyle Walker might’ve been voted the official club captain by the City players for the 2023/24 season, but it’s clear when De Bruyne is on the pitch that he’s the leader of men the Blues have lacked at times this season. The one players, no matter their age or experience level, look towards for inspiration.
But away from the here and now, it was a performance that once again raised questions about the 32-year-old’s legacy in the Premier League.
The Premier League has seen some wonderful midfield architects in the past, from City’s very own Yaya Toure, to England trio Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Paul Scholes. But can any of them lay claim to the technical ability, big game impact and list of achievements De Bruyne has produced? Short answer, no.
Suffice to say Gerrard doesn’t have the Premier League titles De Bruyne boasts, and while Lampard has won the same competitions as the Belgian international, it’s the number of league wins for ‘King Kev’ that edges the debate in his favour. The only player in this conversation who has more Premier League titles than City’s number-17 is Scholes, but the ex-Manchester United midfielder never possessed the immense talismanic qualities De Bruyne does.
Every single team in the Premier League has had a day – some of them more than one – where Kevin De Bruyne has embarrassed them on the football pitch. Arsenal, Chelsea, Man United, Tottenham and even Liverpool – they’ve all experienced it at least once. The lung-busting runs, the defence-splitting passes, the screamers from outside the box – De Bruyne’s hit list contains pretty much every club he’s ever played against.
Of course, De Bruyne’s numbers speak for themselves. The ex-Wolfsburg man has the best assist-to-minute ratio in Premier League history, averaging one every other match. His record in front of goal isn’t too shabby either, having scored 65 times in the Premier League. But it’s the unquantifiable aspects of his game that see him stand out above the rest.
How can anyone begin to explain De Bruyne’s impact on City’s title-winning comeback against Aston Villa in 2022? The game that spawned the now famous ‘kneeling down to tie his laces’ photo after Aston Villa’s second goal. Or his tormenting performance at the Etihad Stadium against Arsenal during the 2023 run-in? Or even the winning goal away to Chelsea in 2017 that kick-started the Blues’ 100-point campaign?
Just a handful of examples from the countless number of times De Bruyne has dragged City to success. Everyone has their personal favourite, all of them equally impressive, yet none of them can be understood by mere mortals like ourselves.
The debate about De Bruyne being the Premier League’s best-ever midfielder was settled quite a while back. That one is done and dusted. The only question that remains unanswered is whether he’s the best-ever player to grace these shores full stop. And on the back of Saturday’s performance at St. James’ Park, it’s hard to argue otherwise.
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